Baby, It Can’t Fall

Baby, It Can’t Fall.
Baby, It Can’t Fall (live, 1986).

Before recording Blah-Blah-Blah, Bowie, Iggy Pop and David Richards went through a stack of contemporary albums to find a sound. They liked the drums on Springsteen’s Born In the USA and Prince’s mid-Eighties records, but they were especially taken by Public Image Ltd.’s Album (or Cassette, or Compact Disc, depending on its medium),* with Bill Laswell’s massive production on the record. John Lydon had sacked his touring band for studio guns like Steve Vai and legends like Tony Williams and Ginger Baker, whose drums Laswell mixed so loudly that they were like a sustained aerial bombardment. Album was, in a way, the culmination of Lydon’s goal with PiL: to make an anonymous, vicious corporate rock record, one that jeered at the people it made dance; it was a faceless board of directors issuing songs about torture, capitalism-as-narcotic, betrayal.

But where Laswell had a cast of top players (including Miles Davis, who he didn’t even use) on call in New York’s premier studios, Bowie and Pop were making a record on the cheap in Switzerland (as Pop didn’t have a record deal, Blah was entirely self-funded), reusing chips on Roger Taylor’s Linn, and leaning on Erdal Kizilcay to do the work of ten players.

Kizilcay was a Turk, born in 1950, who had gone to Istanbul’s equivalent of Julliard, where he was required to learn every instrument in the standard orchestra. So he could play everything from violin to French horn to oboe to vibes to drums (though his specialty was bass and guitar). Bowie met him in Switzerland, where Kizilcay was playing at a local club and, as a gimmick, switched instruments throughout the evening. For Bowie (and fellow Swiss exile Freddie Mercury), Kizilcay was a godsend—as he could play any instrument required, he could serve as a one-man band for demos, enabling Bowie to quickly get new material down without the bother of hiring or shipping in players. So Kizilcay helped Bowie make the Let’s Dance demos, and designed the template for what would be Never Let Me Down (which caused some trouble, as we’ll see).

But where Kizilcay’s strengths lay in his versatility and improvisational skill, using him to basically sub for a rock band but on a budget, had its downsides. “Baby, It Can’t Fall,” a song for which Bowie wrote the music, in particular suffers from a sense of cutting corners, as there’s a flatness, a tinniness to the sound that the overcrowded mix, with its yo-yoing Pop vocals and occasional synth whooshes, can’t disguise. Pop’s wild declaration of love in the chorus—defying the world, defying death—demands something mightier than a Casio horn riff (even the Borneo Horns would’ve been better). The cheery opening hook seems out of place; worse, it’s almost directly lifted from Huey Lewis and the News’ “Heart and Soul.”

Still Pop sings “Baby It Can’t Fall” compellingly, with power and muscle, Kevin Armstrong has a gritty solo that you wish would go on for longer (there’s a brief moment in the coda where it seems like there’s going to be a duel between Armstrong’s guitar and Kizilcay on organ, but it goes nowhere), and the song itself is fine, another of Blah‘s testaments to perseverance, of elation at being alive and betting the house on the promise of the present. Pop took the song on the road in late 1986, and some recordings of it—recast as a sparring match between guitar and organ—have more weight and presence than the studio take (even if Armstrong seems to forget the opening riff in the NYC Ritz recording).

Recorded late April-May 1986, Mountain Studios, Montreux, Switzerland. Released 23 October 1986 on Blah-Blah-Blah and in 1987 as the B-side of “Shades.”

* By rights, the collection should called MP3 or RAR on iTunes/Amazon.

Top: Melanie Griffith and Jeff Daniels, Something Wild (Demme, 1986).

21 Responses to Baby, It Can’t Fall

  1. Darth Pazuzu says:

    Wow! You’re certainly dead-on right about the Casio sound of that riff, as well as the Huey Lewis comparison! I must say this is not one of my favorite Iggy tracks. As far as Blah-Blah-Blah is concerned, Shades and Cry For Love are both great tracks, but I have to say I don’t really care for this one. It’s not outright awful as a song, mind you – and the live version does have a tad more muscle to it – but it just kind of goes right through me. Sorry…

    As far as Erdal Kizilcay is concerned, he certainly did prove to be a valuable ally for Bowie throughout the ’80s and the first half of the ’90s. He also played on the title track for the When The Wind Blows soundtrack (which he also co-wrote) as well as Never Let Me Down, was part of the Sound + Vision tour in 1990, and he collaborated with Bowie on the Buddha Of Suburbia soundtrack spin-off in 1993. Although interestingly enough, he jumped ship after the original sessions for 1995’s Outside! I get the impression from what I read in one of the more recent biographies that Brian Eno’s whole Oblique Strategies methodology was a bit off-putting to him. Kizilcay certainly seems like an extremely talented guy, and no doubt he’s technically brilliant at what he does, but he certainly seems less at ease with more intuitive, left-field, avant approaches to music-making. It’s quite telling that the Outside sessions were Kizilcay’s last ever work with Bowie to date.

    • Diamond Duke says:

      Sorry about that! I accidentally put in my other user name for my post above (ha, ha, ha)! I forgot that I’m Diamond Duke when I’m around here! A familiar dilemma, no? Keeping’s one’s own alternate personae straight…

      • col1234 says:

        don’t worry, I don’t think there’s a soul reading this blog that didn’t know it was you.

  2. Diamond Duke says:

    But…is that a good thing or a bad thing? πŸ™‚

  3. Maj says:

    I have to admit I’ve never heard this song before. I wonder why it didn’t end up on the album. I gave Blah a proper listen after quite a while today and I think Baby, It Can’t Fall would be a solid album track, there definitely are weaker ones on there.
    Yeah, the production is very 80’s and I do find the combo of Iggy & 80’s production more odd than when it was combined with Bowie’s voice, on the other hand it’s true Iggy’s style of singing is in many cases saving it a bit, whereas for Bowie his vocal delivery was in some cases the record’s last nail in a coffin (no, I will never forgive him for God Only Knows).
    Anyhoo, I quite like this song and I’m gonna have to get it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, Chris!

    • Maj says:

      Okay…let’s scratch abt half of what I wrote above. The fact I like the song stays. I obviously forgot the title. πŸ™‚ Move along…nothing to see here…

  4. ian says:

    Well it makes you wonder what the Never Let Me Down demos sounded like, if they were just Bowie and Kizilcay. Buddha of Suburbia is a busy album- there’s a lot going on most of the time, instrument wise- but it never really feels cluttered. I think we can all agree that what NLMD needs is less clutter.

    That’s not really about the song at hand. I’ve got to agree about the Casio horns. There’s a way to use that tone in a way that’s not aesthetic vomit, but this sure isn’t it. And all in all I find the guitar wildly out-of-place and irritating.

    But Iggy sounds great! I mean, hey, you want a fun album, you got it. No one is pretending they’re making anything they aren’t. That’s why I can’t feel too sour about any of these songs.

    For the record, my favorite song on the record is “Fire Girl,” which semi-sadly won’t be covered here.

    • Diamond Duke says:

      And sadly…[*SIGH*]…neither will Cry For Love (both having been co-written with Steve Jones and not Bowie). 😦

  5. Frankie says:

    Those fake blatting horns are very annoying, and kill the song way too soon, along with all of those random computer game sounds, cartoon sound effects and electronic barf that keep bleeping through out the tune. Its too busy and almost random. Even the chord changes sound random. Iggy holds it together somehow. Knowing Bowie’s early morning work regiment (Read Fripp’s lament about Scary Monsters), this is probably the best vocal take Pop could possibly muster at the ungodly hour of 9 am sharp and I find it hard to detect any woken emotion. Sometimes he sounds resigned and a bit drained from the music that was likely leaving him cold in that barf.

  6. diamond dog says:

    There’s an undercurrent of dislike for kizilcay I feel which is a bit misplaced remember these songs have 2 heavyweights behind them I don,t feel the negatives should be landed at his feet. The buck stops with iggy and ziggy the sound and playing are of the time and I think sound ok even today, knocking songs for being dated is daft all songs sound oif the time. Its decent fun song , its no masterpiece but works. -ts great that iggy was going for a commercial sound and he produced a nice album one which anyone with an interest in iggy pop would like.

    • Remco says:

      I’d agree that most pop songs sound like the time they were made, what I find interesting is that songs that sound like they were made in the eighties tend to annoy the hell out of people (myself very much included) . It could be me but it seems like The Eighties is the only decade that has that problem, I wonder why.

  7. Jeremy says:

    Didn’t Kizilcay sport a mullet hairstyle at one point? Bowie wouldn’t do that! πŸ˜‰

    I pretty much agree with you Diamond dog….

  8. Gnomemansland says:

    At this point isn’t Bowie a (multi) millionaire so why is he cutting corners? Sure it is Iggy’s LP but it sounds as if they were acting more like on the dole musicians with only a Portastudio and a borrowed bass drum. Maybe this was less about money and more about thinking that the Idiot had been done on the cheap and came out so well and maybe this would too?

    • diamond dog says:

      Does not matter how much they spend you cannot polish a turd.

      • Remco says:

        Yes, but it wasn’t a turd. This is not ‘Tonight’. It’s not a collection of uninspired covers and even less inpsired originals. There was actual good stuff to begin with.
        What hurts about this is, they listened to “Born in the USA”, “Around the world in a day” and “Album”(which this blog introduced me to, many thanks) and the sound they chose is THIS??

        The more I think I about it, the more I think it’s nothing to do with technology. It’s more the idea that technology makes human emotion redundant. Maybe that’s what the eighties were going for: inhuman.
        Apparently, inhuman music doesn’t date well.

  9. diamond dog says:

    Damn right no turds on it , great album think I came across wrong should have said it does not matter what you spend if the material is bad there’s no amount of money can make it good. I think iggys humanity shines through and around the world in a day by prince is a fantastically overlooked lp.

    • Remco says:

      I’m glad you were able to make some sense of my previous comment. Apparently, large quantities of alcohol don’t make ones comments any more coherent….

  10. Pinstripe Hourglass says:

    This is unrelated to Bowie, but….
    How do you have Miles Davis and NOT use him?

  11. Mr Tagomi says:

    I think the wonky synth suits this amusingly silly song well. I really like the gormless abandon of the horns, organ and guitar in the coda. One of my favourite songs on this album.

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